Measuring the health literacy of the Upper Midwest

Caitlin J. Bakker, Jonathan B. Koffel, Nicole R. Theis-Mahon


Objectives: Health literacy—the ability to obtain, process, and understand basic health information—is a major determinant of an individual’s overall health and health care utilization. In this project, the authors examined predictors of health literacy levels, including numeracy and graphic literacy, among an adult population in the Upper Midwest.

Methods: The research was conducted at the Minnesota State Fair. Three previously validated scales were used to assess health literacy: Newest Vital Sign, the General Health Numeracy Test, and questions from Galesic and Garcia-Retamero’s Graph Literacy Scale. Demographic information—such as age, educational attainment, zip code, and other potential predictors and modifiers—was collected. Multivariate linear regression was conducted to examine the independent effects of educational attainment, race, ethnicity, gender, and rural or urban location on overall health literacy and scores on each of the individual instruments.

Results: A total of 353 Upper Midwest residents completed the survey, with the majority being white, college-educated, and from an urban area. Having a graduate or professional degree or being under the age of 21 were associated with increased health literacy scores, while having a high school diploma or some high school education, being Asian American, or being American Indian/Alaska Native were associated with lower health literacy scores.

Conclusion: Advanced health literacy skills, including the ability to calculate and compare information, were problematic even in well-educated populations. Understanding numerical and graphical information was found to be particularly difficult, and more research is needed to understand these deficits and how best to address them.


Health Literacy, Patient Education as Topic, Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice, Health Communication

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Copyright (c) 2016 Caitlin J. Bakker, MLIS, Jonathan B. Koffel, MSI, Nicole R. Theis-Mahon, MLIS

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